An oppressive smoke hung around them; ash drifting lazily through the air. The Yokohama skyline was burnt orange by roaring flames; flames that consumed and killed. Yet, in the center of it all, was Atsushi and Akutagawa. Two enemies bathing in the prospect of their inevitable death, together.
"Hey, Aku-Akutagawa?" Atsushi’s voice was strained, his lungs struggling to find oxygen. His partner merely turned towards him, pained even more so than the weretiger, for his pre-existing lung condition was making his demise all the more excruciating; Not to say that Atsushi was much better off, his breaths were ragged, his throat torn apart by visceral screams for his fallen comrades. Despite the torture that was speaking, he continued, "Even-even though I only got you ba-back for a little while, I’m glad I did."
His partner stiffened for a moment, letting the kind words wash over him. Atsushi took notice of this, and for a second, was sure that he had messed up; if it weren’t for Akutagawa’s subtle smile, he would’ve assumed he had. With this slight affirmation, Atsushi continued, "Y’know, we-we're more sim-similar than I realized be-before. I think…" he trailed off, gaze drifting back to the clouds above them. His vision was getting blurry.
Akutagawa turned back to the sky himself and heaved dryly. The grass crunched beneath him, dried out from the heat of the looming fires in the city. He attempted to take a deep breath, one that was meant to relieve pain, but only hurt him further.
"You...think?" despite how quiet the words were, Akutagawa knew Atsushi’s tiger-like hearing would pick them up.
Atsushi released a guttural cough before deciding to continue, this was the end of Yokohama, the end of them; what did he have to lose? "I think, tha-that if we had more time; if the cir-cumstances were diff-different, I could’ve fallen in love with you."
"Y-you’re la-te to the par-party then."
"Damn fool, I thi-nk… I thi-think I already fell in love wi-with you." Akutagawa’s face was strained, screwed up in a horrific expression brought on by the intense burning in his body. However, on top of it all, a saccharine smile remained laced on the corners of his lips, it exuded a fondness softer than silk.
Atsushi felt familiar wetness in his eyes, tickling his tear ducts, devastated tears begging to be shed. The concept of being loved, and being in love, was a foreign one. Atsushi only wished he had the time to experience it, but the clock was running out. Maybe, just maybe, he could give all of his love in his final moments, let someone else have what was caged away for so long. He could shove beauty in the face of cruel fate, and beg it to let them wake up in the morning.
"Hey Aku…?" he gave up with the last syllables of Akutagawa’s name, for any effort to pronounce them would’ve been futile in a time like this.
He received no response but hushed breathing.
Atsushi continued nonetheless.
"Would i-it ma-make it be-better if I loved you in our la-last moments t-too?"
"Y-y-you ma-ke it so-sound like I-I’m dying. I sw-swear I'll out-outlive you, jin-ko." Akutagawa followed his quip with a pained laugh--or what one could assume was a laugh, the sound was broken and so stifled it was hard to tell.
"Wa-was that… a joke?" Atsushi felt his stomach lurch, felt his head begin to spin. Dizziness plagued his being as the awful truth sunk in. He was never able to explore Akutagawa’s humor more, never witness his smile in a moment that wasn’t life or death. This was it. He could never give enough. Never give him enough.
It was then that Akutagawa closed his eyes. His breathing became less and less steady, softer and softer until it became difficult for Atsushi to decern whether the man next to him was dead or alive.
"It’s o-okay, I can make it. Save your sacrifice for another day." Akutagawa’s words were closer to incoherent mumbling and the mouthing of syllables at this point. Somehow though, they were crystal clear in the ears of the weretiger. To Akutagawa, it felt as though his chest was collapsing, everything was too loud, his skull was too tight.
Atsushi could sense the hurt radiating off of his partner, smell the sorrow on his clothes, taste his imminent death on his own lips. A few tears rolled down his cheeks. If only...
"I love you, Atsushi."
Akutagawa’s final words were breathless. The younger stilled with utter shock and desperation before allowing himself to cry harder. The action left him heaving for air. He felt as though he could hear his partner’s heart flatlining, an incessant tone buzzing in his eardrums, lulling him to eternal sleep.
The sound of pained coughing rang in his ears, whether it was merely the memory of Akutagawa’s own wheezes or the ones clawing their way out of Atsushi’s throat was hard to tell. It was a sick melody, one of someone's most damning nightmares. It was pitiful, ironic almost, that to the bitter end their fates were tied.
Atsushi moved his hand carefully, a painstaking process, and linked their pinkies. The air surrounding him was too hot, not unlike the thick tears dribbling down his chin and collarbones.
The weretiger took one last look at the sky that felt as though it would crumble onto him. He wished he could’ve gone beautifully, if not for himself, for his mentor, Dazai; who had been slain by the enemy. How did the universe manage to never stop taking?
Maybe someone would call his demise beautiful; in Atsushi’s clouded eyes, it only felt untimely, tragic.
The things he could’ve done, learned, seen, felt. The people he could’ve, would’ve, loved.
And so, in his final breaths, he screamed. The sound pierced the evening sky, his unshed tears flowing freely.
He screamed for his friends, for his found family, for his bleeding heart, for his love.
He screamed in hopes that tomorrow he would wake up, with a sore throat to remind him of what he had, of what he could lose. The first step to waking up was closing your eyes, so that, he did.
"I love you, Ryuunosuke."
And then, at long last, the world caved in.